Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein in 2015. Klein is stepping down as head of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. CTMIRROR.ORG

As the state faces increases in its unhoused population and strains on the system of caring for people experiencing homelessness, one of the leading homelessness organizations has introduced new leadership.

Former chief executive officer Evonne Klein — who was also the first head of the state’s Department of Housing — has stepped down from her post at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Sarah Fox, the former chief operating officer, has now taken on the role of chief executive officer following Klein’s departure.

Fox said her past experiences will help bring new perspective as she comes into the role.

“I am someone who experienced homelessness as a child,” Fox said. “I bring that experience with me because it really has broadened my lens. There are so many of us that have experienced the trauma of homelessness. And today with the climate that we’re facing, we really have to be very focused and work together in unity to solve homelessness and to actively address it.” 

“The pandemic had such a huge impact on our homeless response system, and we’re still feeling the ripple effects today,” she added. “We’re seeing increases in older adults sleeping in parking lots across the state. Today, it’s people of all economic levels who are just unable to find housing … we’re seeing more and more people fall into homelessness.”

Fox aims to bring change to the organization through partnerships, and some of that work began under Klein’s leadership. She wants to bring together key groups within the sector, including organizations, state agencies, service providers and people experiencing homelessness, she said.

“When we have done well in the state, we have had one aligned and shared vision for what it’s going to take to solve homelessness,” Fox said.

Fox will continue work on a plan called CT CAN End Homelessness Initiative. The initiative involves organizing service providers across the state, and the group is working on the details of a plan to end homelessness in Connecticut. 

In 2016, Connecticut became the second state in the country to receive federal recognition for ending veteran homelessness. The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness aims to bring the state’s homelessness rate to “functional zero” — meaning that the state has suitable infrastructure and resources to prevent homelessness and help those experiencing homelessness so that homelessness is rare and brief.

Klein said she looks forward to continuing her work with the CT CAN initiative and improving housing in Fairfield County. She’s most proud of launching the ending initiative last year.

Fox comes into her position at a complex time. According to the most recent point-in-time count, homelessness in Connecticut has increased nearly 3% as 3,015 people were reported to be experiencing homelessness in January 2023, compared to 2,930 in January 2022.

Connecticut’s homeless population had been on an eight-year decline. But figures showed a 13% increase in homelessness versus 2021.

This is compounded by the organization’s need to place unhoused individuals into shelters before the winter, one of the biggest challenges that Fox faces in her new role and a situation she describes as “the perfect storm.”

“The homeless response system has never had ongoing, consistent funding … and one of the areas is within cold weather emergency response funding,” she said. “This last session, we asked for $50 million. We were not allocated those dollars throughout the session, and once again, it’s August, and we’re going to have to come together very quickly to have a response.”

Service providers had asked for the money to annualize emergency cold weather funding, among other initiatives.

“I want us to have a plan in place and have the resources necessary so we can make sure that our homeless response system … can meet the needs and prevent people from coming into our system, or make sure there’s a plan in place so that we can move them on into housing.” 

Fox said that the homelessness sector is underfunded, likening it to “flying a plane without any gas.”

She believes that the disconnect between the organization and the state stems from a misunderstanding of the scale of the work that needs to be done and the resources needed to do it. However, she remains confident in her abilities to lead the organization into finding common ground and working with state legislators to solve the problem.

Donato Davis is CT Mirror's 2023 Emma Bowen Summer Intern. He is a rising junior at the University of Connecticut. Before coming to CT Mirror he participated in a summer sports writing internship with BVM Sports, an online sports magazine based in Wisconsin where he interviewed and wrote articles about local athletes, teams, and coaches within Connecticut. He is also a news reporter at UCTV, UCONN's television news broadcast station.